Arts & Leisure
Songwriter Chad Conant makes debut album count
Chad Conant comes across as a very tactical person. As a project manager for communications and marketing at Middlebury College, it’s his job to triage incoming projects, assign and manage resources, and deliver completed projects on time and on budget. That’s the 9-5 Conant — not exactly what you think of as a creative type.
The Conant you may not see on campus is one who received a banjo as a present from his wife 13 years ago.
“I never played music,” explained the now 50-year-old Vergennes resident in an interview last week. “My wife bought it for me for my 37th birthday so I could play along with friends… I didn’t want a guitar because… well, who needs another guitar player?”
With the banjo, Conant found his passion for playing and singing, and before long he was playing open mikes, putting together a band and writing his own music.
A few weeks ago, Conant released his first EP, “Gavia Immer,” with the help of producer and musician Colin McCaffrey.
The title is Latin for “common loon,” and comes from a line in the first track on the album, “Hello Wind.”
“Some of my favorite memories are camping lakeside listening to the loons,” said Conant, who grew up in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. “Their voices are distinctive, providing great joy and excitement when heard, but also tinges of loneliness and sadness. I believe this album evokes these emotions.”
Conant is a “whole burrito” kinda songwriter — you gotta take the good with the bad. Inspired by the music and lyrics of John Prine and Gregory Alan Isakov, Conant’s music and performances inspire audiences to step into a familiar world where they can experience joy, loneliness, fear, humor, regret and hope. It’s all in there.
“The first track, ‘Hello Wind,’ is a hopeful song,” Conant said, adding that Fern Maddie sings backup vocals on that track. “I wrote it for my wife, Amy, and it’s probably my favorite song on the album. It came so easily.”
Next is “Take All My Nothing.” “It’s almost like a country song, and I dig it,” Conant said. McCaffrey joined Conant on backup instruments and Billy Corbett is featured on the mandolin.
The third track starts like this:
“Well got me a… genuine, certified white trash toaster bought at the pharmacy store…”
That first line originates from one bummer of a morning, when Conant and his wife’s toaster broke and they didn’t know what to do for breakfast.
“My wife sang the first line of this song out of the blue,” Conant explained. “Naw, she can’t carry a tune, but that line was too good. The song is like a drunken barn dance tune — a real banjo song. And as a banjo player I felt like I needed to play and write a banjo song.”
The track turns into more of an homage to the Northeast Kingdom:
“I’ve traveled to the east and traveled to the west, I’ve traveled most everywhere;
But nothing beats this land of loggers and farmers, just breathe on in that dairy air .”
From an upbeat and comedic tune, the album takes listeners into the fourth track, “Ugly Parts.”
“The narrator of this song just doesn’t like who they are talking to,” Conant said. “I had the most fun with the lyrics on this one… Just imagine one of those bubbly people who fake it so obviously that you can see straight through it; and a total Eeyore. Now what if they met? What would they say to each other?”
This tune takes more of a Texas swing approach, with more modern pacing.
“I’ve gotten the best reaction from ‘Despondency,’” that’s the fifth song on Conant’s album. “It’s a social commentary.”
Maddie backs up Conant again on this tune, singing:
“We languish in the anguish of our self-made misery.”
“As a society we are so used to being miserable,” Conant explained. “All we need to do is keep it simple, find our similarities and do it better… The tune ends with hope.”
Finally, the EP ends with “The Request.” And, OMG, grab a box of tissues for this one…
“It is sad,” Conant said. That’s the truth. “My wife won’t let me sing it in the house.”
The storyline is that the narrator is dying and needs someone to witness their death. Conant wrote this piece in response to people who died alone during COVID, when loved ones could not hold each others’ hands at the end of their lives.
“Kiss my tears, my beloved. Kiss my tears until they’re gone.”
It is tragic. Conant feels all the feelings, and makes sure we do too.
“One of the benefits of starting songwriting as an older person is you actually have experience,” he said. “Anger, love, loss… it’s all there. I hope.”
For Conant, who doesn’t have kids, creating music is his legacy. “It’s what I can leave behind,” he said. “I don’t expect a Grammy award (thought I should because the quality is there).”
Conant set out to make this album with the deadline of mid-February, and he did it.
“It was a lot of hard work,” he said. “But I think my job as a project manager really helped. I’m a deadline enforcer but also a creative singer/songwriter; I have a foot in each world and that balances me a bit.”
For more on Chad Conant visit conantmusic.com. You can also find his music on all streaming platforms @CONANT.
SEE CONANT LIVE
Chad Conant will play at the South Mountain Tavern in Bristol this Friday, March 17, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., and at the Middlebury Snow Bowl on March 24, from 2-4:30 p.m.
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